Thursday, September 22, 2011

Farrowing

With a 2-week-old litter (or "farrow", in hog-farmer jargon) of 11 healthy piglets currently scooting about the pasture, and occasionally making appearances here at the farm blog, we figured we might take the opportunity to rewind a bit, and to share some of the experiences we’ve had in preparing for these rambunctious critters.  While other expectant families might struggle to decide which color to paint the nursery, or whether or not to get a diaper genie, in this neck of the woods we were running fence, hoisting corral panels, and (I’ll just speak for myself here) watching the Mama's belly to see if any teensy hooves were kickin' just yet.
As it turns out, there wasn’t all that much people-work involved in preparing for our gilt’s first farrowing--we provided the necessities, and watched on as she contentedly went about her prepartum affairs.  As with so many other processes here at the farm, the animals know what to do, and do it best.  Our "Mama pig" has made this first farrowing a beautiful experience for all involved.

A hog's gestation is, I kid you not, approximately 3 months, 3 weeks, and 3 days.  After being bred in mid-May to a Berkshire boar at our friend's farm, our freshly pregnant gilt, Charlotte, returned to her stomping grounds with ravenous cravings for pickles and ice cream.  Just kidding.  But she was greeted with excitement and curiosity by her four sisters, who, after initiating a brief confirmation of pecking order, welcomed her back to the foraging, wallowing, and contented snoozing of hog life here at the farm.

Four curious gilts greet their sister, Charlotte, out of the trailer and back to the farm
It was business as usual for Charlotte for the majority of her almost-four-month gestation period, until two days before she gave birth, when we gave her the key to her own personal farrowing pasture, adjacent to her sisters'.  At this point, we also began doubling her feed rations (we went back down to her typical daily ration shortly after she gave birth, as many believe that overfeeding a lactating sow is a no-no; addendum: we have since re-increased her ration to ensure that she is getting enough energy. As we continue to learn and observe we will transition to more self-sourced forage via the pasture & woodlot areas). A wonderful aspect to pasture / woodlot ranging is that in addition to her staple diet she sources what she needs from the land, just as her wild brethren do. This all helps to insure her health and that of her piglets.
An oak grove hosts Charlotte's farrowing pasture and shelter
Charlotte's spread is about ¾ of an acre of rich green growth peppered with oak trees, a water trough, and a shelter.  We threw in several bales worth of straw, with which we expected Charlotte to carve out a nest, and to our surprise, the next day we found that she had dragged additional twigs, branches & grasses into the shelter, the way a mother bird would, to make sure it was up to snuff.  It's incredible how well these animals' instincts guide them through new experiences. Without seeing another hog prepare for farrowing, our 1.5-year-old Mama pig knew just what to do.  This A+ mothering profile is also most likely attributable to Charlotte's genetics, being a heritage breed sow and all.

The day before she gave birth, we noticed that Charlotte’s teats had practically doubled in size from the day before, which had all of us giddy over the pressing reality that piglets were finally on short order.

2 days to go...
and sha-bam! ...1 day to go!  

Sure enough, the next morning, as we crested the hill approaching the farrowing shelter, we saw a soft bustle of activity behind the recumbent Mama pig.  It took a while to count them (as they are often heaped on top of one another, and often in motion), but we eventually confirmed that we had 6 new gilts and 5 new boars on farm, all looking quite healthy, with no major size discrepancies.  We're elated at the prospect of following these youngin's through their full life cycles, continuing to provide as near a hog heaven as we can here at the ranch.


Look for more posts from the pig pasture as we anticipate the next steps in the process, mainly weaning, and re-breeding Charlotte when she is ready! Also click through to our Pastured Pigs photo & video album.